Today, we’re going to take a look at Pittsburgh Pirates’ second base prospect Nick Gonzales, and a slight variation I noticed in his swing. Gonzales was drafted seventh overall in the first round of the 2020 draft by the Pirates. He’s currently penciled in as the second baseman of the future in Pittsburgh, with a swing that could win batting titles.
To get an idea of what the Pirates saw in Gonzales, let’s look at this video from his time with New Mexico State, via FanGraphs:
This video doesn’t show a lot of hitting from Gonzales, but shows consistently quick hands through the zone, and good hand-eye coordination as he tracks the pitch and makes solid contact a few times out in front of the plate with the barrel of the bat. Here is Baseball America’s view of his hitting ability from their pre-draft report.
“Gonzales is the prototypical baseball rat, though he has more innate hitting ability than most gritty, gamer types. He has elite bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline, and his strong hands allow him to make hard contact to all fields. He consistently finds the barrel and has excellent natural timing, allowing scouts to project 15-20 home runs even though he’s undersized.”
Gonzales is hitting .275/.357/.485 in his pro debut this year in Greensboro, with nine home runs. A few of those came recently, and two of them were captured by Baseball America’s Josh Norris:
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) August 9, 2021
It appears there have been a few minor adjustments to the setup from Gonzales, which are carrying through to the swing.
Gonzales was more upright in the New Mexico State video, with a slight leg kick in a rocking back-and-forth motion, loading up his quick hands to explode through the zone. In the Greensboro video, Gonzales starts in a bit of a crouch, with a stance that’s more open and wider. The bat speed and hands are largely the same, with quick hands through the zone exploding out after a leg kick and a rock back and forth.
What really makes Gonzales such a special hitting prospect is that hand-eye coordination. If you track him across all of the videos, his head and eyes travel to a spot in front of the plate and his hands maneuver the bat to meet the pitch at that point, typically making contact with the barrel.
In the NCAA video, the hands appeared to be doing more work to create power from bat speed, with less of the lower-half incorporated into the swing. The video from Greensboro shows more explosion from the body, with Gonzales starting off on his back hip, staying on the hip longer with a more controlled load and leg kick, and putting more force behind those explosive hands.
That’s a sample size of two swings that were both home runs for Gonzales. However, the focus on the lower-half, and the approach to get into a better starting point are both things the Pirates have been doing with their prospects — as opposed to more piecemeal development like adding a leg kick to a current swing. The force aspect, in particular, is something that Pirates’ farm director John Baker detailed to me earlier in the season:
“Force is coming out of the ground,” Baker said. “Generally with our lower body, and if you think about the coordination necessary to hit a baseball, it’s not about how strong or how powerful you are, but it’s how well you can transfer energy from the ground into an implement, like a bat or a ball. A big element of that is coordination.”
Here’s a look at the two swings, side-by-side:
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsPBN) August 12, 2021
The biggest of the subtle differences I can see is the front elbow. Gonzales brings it back more in the 2020 swing, with his leg kick almost causing his body to slightly twist inward to the plate. In the 2021 video, you could draw a line straight down his front side before his hands explode forward — with the hands held around the waist from the point of the load, rather than being held chest-high. The elbow doesn’t move back as quickly as in the first video, and his hands stay pretty level, creating more upward movement, rather than a high-to-low motion in the 2020 video.
The hands are doing work in both videos. However, they’re on a better path in the newer video, staying within the same plane as the pitch, and with a better frame created by the back elbow staying lower and the front elbow staying forward for a longer duration in the newer video. That should help to generate more force through those hands from the lower half.
Gonzales projects to have the hitting ability to win batting titles, fueled by that quick swing and the hand-eye coordination. Getting those hands into better consistent position will help him toward that type of accomplishment as he faces tougher pitchers in pro ball.